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Theological Dialogue

Dear Friends,

This week we began to receive the reports of the Nashville meeting between evangelicals and progressives in the United Methodist Church.  Here is an excerpt from the report that does an excellent job of illustrating the sharp differences in point of view.

"With few exceptions, the group agreed with Bishop Judith Craig who described two "divergent world views, ways of coming at reality" related to God's revelation to humanity.  The first, she said, believes that the "Holy Spirit's activity is such that we continue to receive new revelation of God" while the other "believes the Holy Spirit is active in helping us comprehend what has already been revealed."

People who support the first view believe "God is still unfolding truths that have not yet been disclosed and live comfortably with a wide variety of convictions," she said,  while those in the second group "need to have delineated an understanding of God's intent."

Many participants agreed with Craig that this point of difference is a the center of many theological controversies in the church. "Bishop Craig has stated the issue very clearly," said Dunnam.  "It is the point that threatens to undermine the unity of the church."

While most of the discussions were polite and civil, direct confrontation did occur.  One of the most outspoken proponents of a clear core of beliefs with strict limits and delineated theological boundaries was John Gardner, a layman who teaches at the University of Wisconsin.

Responding to Craig's analysis, Gardner said, "If your view prevails, a number of us will exit the church."   He attacked her position as "empty pluralism" and "terribly wrong," but he later apologized publicly for the sharpness of his remarks.

The Rev. Philip Wogaman, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, said revelation is not revelation until it is received.  "Is no new light to be shed in our age?" he asked."

I appreciate Bishop Craig's candor.  The issue of revealed truth really is the core issue we face.  I was afraid there would be too much focus on trying to paper over differences or too much focus on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality.  As an evangelical, I find the notion that foundational revelation is ongoing quite disturbing and completely intolerable.  To be orthodox is to believe that the revelation once received in Scripture is not revokable. I believe this to be the basic belief of Christianity in general and Methodism in particular.

  1. We have no mechanism for changing our basic doctrine.  Article One of our Restrictive Rules in our Discipline states, "The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine".  Article Two states, The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Confession of Faith.

  2. Changing our doctrine does not lead to unity but to disunity.  One of Methodism's basic principles is that there is a core of doctrine that holds all Christians together.  We believe what has always and everywhere been believed.

  3. The basic response we have to heterodox groups such as the Jehovah's Witness, Christian Scientists, and Mormons is, "Why do we need to add something to the witness of Jesus Christ?  Jesus is the one perfect answer that needs no addendum." 

  4. This is not to say Christianity is not adaptable.  There are a multiplicity of ways to worship and experience Christ.  If the issue does not strike at the root of Christianity we think and let think. 

  5. It is extremely painful to be in the same faith community with people who reject what you hold to be foundational.  I am grateful for the dialogue and I think it is helpful.  However, there is no way to reconcile these two contradictory assertions.   This meeting of progressives and evangelicals only further illustrates the inevitability of our ongoing conflict.

Your Brother,


John Miles is:
  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

John Miles also publishes a weekly E-mail newsletter on issues facing the United Methodist Church. If you would like to recieve that E-mail write

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